Chaplin’s first talking picture was ahead of its time: a stirring condemnation of Hitler and facism, it was initially banned by the UK government due to the appeasement policy with Nazi Germany, although later became a hit, partly due to its wartime propaganda value.
There were many odd parallels between Chaplin and Hitler: both were born in April 1889, Chaplin’s Tramp character and Hitler had a similar moustache and both struggled in poverty before reaching global fame.
Chaplin’s son later described how his father was haunted by the similarities:
“Their destinies were poles apart. One was to make millions weep, while the other was to set the whole world laughing. Dad could never think of Hitler without a shudder, half of horror, half of fascination.”
The film was bold in its ridicule of Nazism and its depiction of an anti-Semitic authoritarian regime.
Watch this appreciation by The New Yorker’s Richard Brody from earlier this year:
In addition to writing, directing and producing, Chaplin played the titular dictator ‘Adenoid Hynkel’ (a thinly-veiled substitute for Adolf Hitler) and a look-alike Jewish barber persecuted by the regime.
At the climax of the film, the two have swapped positions and Chaplin directly addresses the audience in a speech which denounces facism, greed and intolerance in favour of liberty and human brotherhood.
See what you think: